In times of political crisis, play to your base.
That’s exactly what Saskatchewan premier Scott Moe did in the legislature on Friday.
Badgered by questions from opposition leader Ryan Meili about his mishandling of the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and it’s impact on the summer, the premier touted the measure already in place, his best-in-the-nation vaccination rollout and dangled an enticing carrot for supporters on the fence: a full Mosaic stadium by the end of the summer.
“We have charted our course out of this pandemic. We have only been able to do that because of the effort each and every individual has made in this province. The effort collectively that that brings to the province. We need Saskatchewan people — and I implore on them — to just hold on a little while longer with the public health measures that we have in order and ensure that when it is your turn, roll up your sleeve and let’s get vaccinated,” Moe emphasized.
“Not just your first shot, but go back and get your second shot when it’s available. Everybody over 12 has an opportunity next week. That’s how we’ll stick it to COVID. That’s how we’ll find our way back to normal. That’s how later this summer, we’re going to fill that stadium down in this town.”
While promising to provide the Roughriders faithful with a chance to enjoy a Pilsner in the sun while watching Cody Fajardo sling the pigskin is a boost for any Saskatchewan government, it is also massively important for the CFL’s hopes for this year.
The CFL has announced a delayed start date for the 2021 season, with a 14-game schedule targeted to kick-off on August 5, culminating with a December 12 Grey Cup. For that timeline to be met, the league requires that ‘a significant number of fans’ be allowed in stadiums.
That prospect is looking increasingly unlikely in Eastern Canada, where Ontario minister of sport Lisa MacLeod admitted on Thursday that any fan attendance in August was ‘ambitious’ and the province had not yet approved the league’s return to play proposal.
In order to meet their August 5 target date, the league could choose to frontload the schedule in more fan-friendly Western jurisdictions. Regina is at the top of the list and while Ontario premier Doug Ford has indicated no ‘large sporting events’ will take place this summer, Scott Moe is proposing full capacity events in his province.
That statement was backed up later in the legislative session by Saskatchewan minister of trade and export Jeremy Harrison in an attempt to pivot away from NDP questioning on food taxes.
“This is a government that has been focused on governing, that has had to make incredibly difficult decisions over the course of the last year. The sort of decisions that have never faced the provincial government before in its history,” he deflected.
“On the public health front, we now have the best vaccination campaign in the entire country, which has allowed us to put forward the very first reopening plan and is going to result in this province returning to normal and having a full Mosaic Stadium this summer.”
Saskatchewan announced a three-step plan to relax restrictions earlier this month. The process is expected to begin the last week of May and finish with ‘most’ restrictions being lifted in the second week of July. That’s if 70 percent of adults 18 and older receive their first vaccine dose by then.
The government looks set to meet those targets, with vaccines open to all citizens over the age of 12 starting next week.
“Our path out of the pandemic does go through one of our vaccination clinics here in the province. We have a roadmap for how we’re going to get there,” Moe said.
For promises of packed Riders games this summer to come true, the positive vaccination trend must continue without delay. The premier had a dire warning for those who might stand in the way of the watermelon-helmet-clad faithful.
“I understand there’ll be some that may not get vaccinated, but they should know this. They are putting themselves at great risk by not getting vaccinated, because we very shortly are going to achieve the metrics that we had put forward in our reopening plan,” Moe stressed.
“We’re going to reopen this province, we’re going to reopen our communities. We’re going to reopen youth athletics. We’re going to get things back to normal in community after community in this great province and the only reason we’re able to do that is because of what the people of Saskatchewan have done and continue to do.”